Ancient Rhetoric and Modern Politics

And now, O men who have condemned me, I would fain prophesy to you; for I am about to die, and that is the hour in which men are gifted with prophetic power.

–Socrates, Apology


I would like to distinguish between the ‘history of ideas’ and the ‘history of thought.’ The history of ideas involves the analysis of a notion from its birth, through its development, and in the setting of other ideas, which constitute its context. The history of thought is the analysis of the way an unproblematic field of experience becomes a problem, raises discussions and debate, incites new reactions, and induces crisis in the previously silent behaviors, practices, and institutions. It is the history of the way people become anxious, for example, about madness, about crime, about themselves, or about truth.

–Michel Foucault

Comprised of six lectures delivered, in English, by Michel Foucault while teaching at Berkeley in the Fall of 1983, Fearless Speech was edited by Joseph Pearson and published in 2001. Reviewed by the author, it is the last book Foucault wrote before his death in 1984 and can be read as his last testament. Here, he positions the philosopher as the only person able to confront power with the truth, a stance that boldly sums up Foucault’s project as a philosopher.

Still unpublished in France, Fearless Speech concludes the genealogy of truth that Foucault pursued throughout his life, starting with his investigations in Madness and Civilization, into the question of power and its technology. The expression “fearless speech” is a rough translation of the Greek parrhesia, which designates those who take a risk to tell the truth; the citizen who has the moral qualities required to speak the truth, even if it differs from what the majority of people believe and faces danger for speaking it.

Parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth through frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy.

Michel Foucault (1926–84) is widely considered to be one of the most influential academic voices of the twentieth century and has proven influential across disciplines.

• • •


Semiotext(e) is an American independent publisher. It is widely credited for having introduced so-called “French Theory” to North America through its magazine issues and Foreign Agents series. In 2000, the MIT Press began distributing Semiotext(e), taking it over from the anarchist publishing collective Autonomedia. The Semiotext(e) offices are located in Los Angeles.

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